Sunday, August 02, 2009

Bizarre ...

... Why Books Are Stupid. (Hat tip, Lee Lowe.)

Elissa Bassist ... suggests the good ones can “can make life manageable” and turn a bad day into a good one. If this were true, librarians would be some of the happiest people on Earth. I personally know half a dozen librarians, and not one of them is anything close to happy.

Dave Lull strikes me as a reasonably happy sort.


  1. Books are rather like people. The come in all shapes, size, dispositions, etc. Yes, some books are worthless, but as for myself, I hope I am never quite as cynical about and dismissive toward books as the author of the posting to which you have linked; it seems to me that he has rather missed the point about the importance and value of good books. Perhaps he should take a look at Harold Bloom's superb little book, How To Read And Why, in which he would be invited by one of the sage-like literary critics to discover something different and wonderful about books.

  2. Books can be wonderful, but perhaps we booklovers need to be reminded from time to time of what they can't do. And Bloom is one of the last people I'd read when in need of comfort in times of great stress.

  3. Bloom is one of the last people I'd turn to for anything, much less book advice. Few critics are more full of their own self-importance.

    I'm far more likely to turn to Octavio Paz, or Noel Perrin, for book advice.

    Books may not be a cure-all for all ills, but certainly are a balm and a solace for many things. But then, I come from a book-reading family. And I personally know three or four professional librarians, and they are pretty happy. One of them, who is also one of my best friends, loves a good pun that makes people laugh and/or groan.

  4. I confess to being baffled by the hostile reaction to Harold Bloom. Perhaps someone could be specific rather than so general and negative. While I am not an avid disciple of Bloom's (i.e., I have no particular devotion to his work or his person), I am consistently impressed with his work (i.e., beginning with his assessment of William Blake and English Romanticism and--more recently--continuing with his commentaries on Shakespeare). Lee and Art, what is it that so bothers you about Bloom?

  5. And, by the way, I have observed this about everyone working at the library on campus (where I work as an instructor) and at the city library near my home: they all seem happy (or at least they are all quite pleasant, courteous, and congenial). The refugees from the street, however, who use the city library as an escape from their homelessness are another story. But, as it is another story, it has no place in this discussion. So, with a little time on my hands, I return to my reading of Bloom's assessment of Othello (in which I see nothing of what others claim is the professor's overbearing personality).

  6. RT, I don't believe that I expressed any hostility towards Bloom, and I certainly I know nothing about his personality. The writer of that particular blog was talking about the need for comfort when bereaved, and my experience of the deeply grieving is that at most they can read about those in similar situations. There is little or no space for literary criticism - or much of anything else for quite a while.

  7. I've written about Bloom on my own blog; feel free to do a search, I don't have time for it myself tonight.

    My objections to Bloom's criticism are several, but I'll do my best to sum up, knowing full well that I'm not giving specifics at the moment, but I don't have time for more at the moment:

    1. He's ultra-conservative in his literary tastes. Which is fine, in itself—but he also tends to present his taste as what everyone else should agree with, too.

    1.b. He conflates some elements of style as inherently good, and others inherently bad. This is personal taste disguised as objectivity. I find it unconvincing.

    2. He likes to build canons. There are several problems with that. (Again, on my blog.) Bloom has written at least two books that I recall which are essentially exercises in canon-building. His criteria in each instance are deeply flawed. Like many other critics, what he really wants to do is create an overarching aesthetic philosophy, and use it as a litmus test for comparing new works to works in his canon, as a way of judging quality. The deep problem with doing that is that such canonic judgments almost always miss real originality and genuine innovation, in favor of matching the known and familiar.

    There's more, but that's enough generalities for now.

    P.S. Oh yeah, one more thing. I can't remember which book of his it's in at the moment, but there's an essay he wrote that tries to basically prove that everything since high Modernism is crap. He makes some points that are worth thinking about in that essay, but in almost every case he once prefers Dead White Literary Guys to every other kind of writing available. I'm not even sure he knows how biased he is. Oh well.